Thoughts for missionaries and their supporters — Part 2

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

This is the second of two blog postings taken from a presentation at the Honduran Missionary Conference a few years ago.

If you are a missionary, I hope you will take this to heart. If not, perhaps you know a missionary or your church supports one and you could pass this on.

When I presented this at the conference, about half-way through, I heard people laughing. Personally, I didn’t think it was at all funny. Then, I realized that the laughing reflected nervousness, a reaction to some thoughts that were difficult or uncomfortable.

However you react, I pray that if you are a missionary, you will take this seriously, think about it and pray about it.

This is a delicate topic, so I ask you to listen closely. Again I will share with you this scripture:

Matthew 25: 23: “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

We all know that someday we will retire, or we will die. And we know that at that time, the ministry that the Lord has given to us will no longer be our responsibility. We trust that the Lord will say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!

I assume that we have all made some plans for that day. Plans for old-age care, plans for retirement income, plans for how we may be cared for.

But maybe you have not:

Some of you may say, there won’t be any Social Security when I get to that age. Well…maybe yes, but let me tell you that 50 years ago I heard that same thing—Social Security won’t be around when you retire. But you know what? Polly and I have been retired for more than ten years, and half of our retirement income is from Social Security. And, without it, we never could have carried out those post-retirement volunteer ministries that we have done since we retired. The Lord provided, nudged us to save money and pay into Social Security, and He has used us for His glory in retirement.

Others of you will say, “The Lord will provide.” Here is where it gets sticky. I agree that the Lord will provide.

 Psalm 121:

The Lord watches over you—
The Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

But, what I want to gently but forcefully nudge you about is the development of an exit plan.

This is important for all, but especially for those who are caring for foster or adopted children.

An exit plan is a deliberate setting out of how your work will be carried on when you are no longer able to do it.

It tells what happens to your facility, to the children, to the students, to the parishioners, to the organization, to the community when you are gone.

And note, I didn’t say when you are dead and gone—just gone!

I want to urge you to write out three exit plans, and to review them faithfully every three years.

  1. Exit plan for what will when you retire or die
  2. Exit plan for what will happen if you have to/decide to leave five years from today
  3. Exit plan for what would happen if you were forced to leave tomorrow morning.

 1. Exit plan for what will when you retire or die

Now, I know, you are 25 and it seems ridiculous for you to be worrying about what happens 40 or 50 years from now.

But, it is not ridiculous, it is just responsible. It won’t take long to write that one out. It may be 40, or 30, or 20, or 10, or (gasp) five years from now, but it won’t hurt you to outline where you think your project will be then and how the Lord would want you to leave it for someone else.

Remember, you will be reviewing this retirement exit strategy every three years so you can modify it as situations and needs change. But at least you will be assuring that the assets the Lord has given you will be respected and used well after you leave the field.

 2. Exit plan for what will happen if you have to/decide to leave five years from today

Now, you aren’t planning on leaving in five years. I know that, you know that, but….during our time in Honduras several years ago, at least three people came to us and opened a discussion about “how do we move on to….”

You need to be thinking about what might be happening in five years. And, oh yes, if you are caring for needy, abandoned children, when you are offered the opportunity to take on responsibility for a new child, use either old math or new math, and figure out what age you will be when that child is 18.

3. Exit plan for what would happen if you were forced to leave tomorrow morning.

Aw, that’s not going to happen, not as long as my health holds and my kids get along here OK and my parents don’t need any help as they age, and the social and legal situation allows me to stay….

But…

  1. A good friend was air-evacuated overnight from her country of service a few years ago by a health concern which was uncertain at best and raised the initial issue about whether she could return.
  2. A missionary family experienced a sudden emergency with one of their children and had to evacuate the country for his protection—never to return.
  3. On our first morning in Honduras, a missionary was flown out on less than 24-hour notice because he had received an extortion threat from a gang. It was leave or risk possible kidnapping or murder.
  4. We know of missionaries who have unexpectedly died on the field. A friend pastoring an international church in Europe lost a substantial percentage of his congregation in a plane crash. Some were business people, others were teachers, and, yes, some were missionaries. That’s never something we plan for, but it does occur.

When we first moved to a new country over a decade ago, some of the first information we received was that if our own government decided that we must be evacuated, we would have perhaps only an hour’s notice and could only take one suitcase

Three exit plans, three steps to living and serving here responsibly. I raise these not to frighten you but because I firmly believe we need to be prepared.

 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.

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Thoughts for missionaries and their supporters — Part 1

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Several years ago I had the privilege and honor of being the keynote speaker at the annual missionary conference in Honduras. This is an event that welcomes all Christian missionaries in the country regardless of their denomination or mission agency.

In addition to presenting five major messages, I also offered the participants two “bonus” presentations designed to provide support, guidance and food for thought.

I share these now with you, the faithful readers of my blog. If you are a missionary, I hope you will take them to heart. If not, perhaps you know a missionary or your church supports one and you could pass this on.

Below is the first “bonus” message. I will post the second one in a few days. Please share these with missionaries you know, your church mission team, or others who might benefit.

Refreshment Plan

Matthew 25: 23: “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

I want to take just a few minutes to address something that I have been pondering ever since our time serving as the interim pastor at the International Christian Fellowship church here in Honduras.

During those months, we met many of you either at the conference or at church or in other settings. We heard stories of what you are doing, the children rescued from deplorable conditions that now are living in cleanliness and love and tranquility.

We heard about churches being planted, people being mentored and restored, families being fed, wells being dug, bodies being healed, souls being saved.

We were, to tell the truth, overwhelmed by what missionaries of Jesus Christ are doing in this country, with the people, how you are giving your lives in service.

What a joy to know you and to hear you and to pray for you.

But, as we talked with missionaries here, in San Pedro Sula and other places, we picked up two stresses, two warning signs, two challenges which many of you face that I would like to address quickly but strongly.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m not just some old guy telling a bunch of young whippersnappers how they ought to live their lives and carry out the ministry God has given them.

Nor, I hope, am I just an old grouch venting my spleen.

What I say, I say in complete love, appreciation and concern for you.

So, take a deep breath, sit back, and just listen—not to me—but to the Lord.

  1. Many of you are tired. Worn out. Fatigued. Yes, burned out.
  2. You run day and night (especially if you are working with children), day after day, week after week, month after month.
  3. The phone rings constantly, people knock on your door at all hours, supplies must be bought, work coordinated, government regulations complied with, shipments sprung from aduana (customs), visas applied for in migracíon (immigration), prayer letters written, demanding work teams housed, guided, entertained, construction completed, sick people cared for, crying children comforted, meals cooked…it goes on and on.
  4. And, one thing I learned last year was that while you are faithful at your work, complete in your leadership, trusting with what has been given to you, while you are all of these things, you are absolutely terrible, lacking, disorganized, systematic and just baaaad at…taking a break, getting a rest, going on vacation, getting away from it all.
  5. And, let me tell you just a few things that you may think would be taking a break, but aren’t.
    1. Taking a weekend off to write and address and mail your prayer letters. No way—that’s part of your work, it’s in the job description, sooner or later you will be forced to go home because of low support levels if you don’t do it. So, it’s not vacation, a day off, a rest to do your prayer letters.
    2. Going on furlough. If you think that furlough is a restful vacation…It’s work, hard work, demanding, stressful, enjoyable, yes, but work.
    3. A change of pace—while refreshing and perhaps enjoyable, isn’t a vacation. Coming to this retreat is a change of pace, but it’s not getting away from our work.
  6. What is a break, a vacation? That’s for you to determine. For some it’s a week away from the funny farm just sleeping, watching TV, reading, playing with grandchildren. For others it’s a few days at the beach or in the mountains, or a trip to the city—eating in good restaurants, taking in a movie or two, shopping at the malls, visiting friends. For others it may be a grand tour of Europe, a visit to family back home, hiking, camping—you name it.
  7. Yes, you name it, but whatever you name it, do it! Because if you don’t the whole thing will come crashing down around you eventually.

 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.

Saws, hammers….and prayers and ministry

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

If you were tasked with writing a history of your church, what would you include?

Several decades ago I assisted an association of churches in a radio series which presented the history of each if its congregations. Members of the church wrote the five or ten minute scripts and a representative of the congregation came to the studio to do the recording.

To add a bit of interest, I suggested that they utilize sound effects to illustrate their historical stories.

To my surprise the most requested sound was hammers and saws. Only one church asked for something different—they had established an orphanage for children left as orphans during a smallpox outbreak back in the 1850s.

What I discovered in recording that series was that most churches identify their accomplishments and activities by the construction of facilities and a “parade of pastors.”

So it goes. Recently on a trip I picked up a small pamphlet outlining the history of an historic church in a Mississippi River town. I was not surprised to find that it, too, is a history of building construction, remodeling, the selling and buying of property along with a list of pastors who served there since 1807.

Somehow we can’t see the forest for the trees, or the movement of the Lord for the business of fellow humans.

How I would love to read a church history that related stories of those whose lives were changed when they committed themselves to Jesus Christ.

I would like to know about ministries that changed the course of the community or led people to crucial outreach in the church.

How nice it would be to hear about people from the youth group or the church as a whole who went into full-time Christian service. (From the youth group in the church that I grew up, three out of around fifteen young people were called to serve—one as a seminary professor, one in pastoral and denominational ministries, and one as a pastor and missionary)

Wouldn’t it be great to know about people who taught Sunday school into their nineties? Of others who relocated overseas as second or third career missionaries in their sixties or seventies; to hear about pastors who went beyond their normal call to write books or establish a homeless outreach or mentor seminary students?

How exciting it would be to read about unique ministries such as the founding of a children’s home, the establishment of housing for the elderly, a resettlement program for refugees, the instituting of a scholarship for those going to seminary or Bible college, a counseling program that healed wounded souls, an outreach to mentor pastors new to their calling—the list could go on and on.

If you or your church are considering writing a history, be creative, be motivating, be faithful in telling not your story or the organization’s story, but the story of what God has done through the congregation. To Him will be the glory.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.

Three Well-intentioned But Misleading Statements That Can Lead Us Astray

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

There are times that Christians make sweeping, misleading statements with good will but potentially disastrous results. These have an element of truth, but when examined are found to be, at least, deceptive and at worst, harmful.

They are akin to saying “all food is good for you.” While one could argue that all food, from meat to vegetables, starches to fruits, sweets to vitamins contribute to nourishment and filling the stomach. But, anyone who has read a recent newspaper or talked with their doctor will know that some foods in excess are harmful, others have little or no nourishment, and some can be outright dangerous.

Let’s look at three such statements that I have heard over the years.

“Everything we do is evangelism.”

“Everything we do at church on Sunday morning is worship.”

“We are all missionaries.”

First, “Everything we do is evangelism.”

Would that this could be true.

Across most of our communities and around the world people are serving the Lord through countless ministries that point to God’s love and compassion.

Food pantries, clothes closets, rehabilitation centers, feeding programs, all are expressions of Christian concern and can be, but not necessarily are, opportunities for evangelism.

There are scriptural references that direct us to share the Gospel and indicate the methodology that we should use:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28: 19-20

In this way, I have aspired to preach the gospel where Christ was not known…. Romans 15:20

My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to God’s grace.  Acts 20:24

Note the key words in these texts; teaching, preaching, testifying. All indicate a verbal, spoken, communicated sharing of the Gospel of God’s grace.

Each of them involves, yes commands, the spoken Word, the teaching, preaching and telling of the Gospel story of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation through Jesus Christ.

To do good works in Christ’s name is laudable and required of each of us. To do them and fail to share in whose name we do it and what Jesus’ purpose was is to fail to evangelize.

To proclaim that everything we do is evangelism can allow us to omit the telling of the Good News.

Second, “Everything we do at church on Sunday morning is worship.”

Here the argument can get a little obscure. In our modern age, what is and isn’t worship has become a bit confused.

Let it be understood, first, that worship is more, much more than just the music. With the development of “worship teams” which lead a congregation in musical praise, the concept has arisen and is often spoken that when the music is over, the worship has finished and we move on to other things.

The reality is that a worship experience involves various elements, and each and every event during that time period should be focused on God. Worship is the time we set aside to praise Him, to pray to Him, to hear His word, and to commit ourselves to Him.

Worship moves from one “activity” (music, scripture reading, prayer, the proclamation of the Word) to another, until it reaches its climax in the confession of faith, the sharing in communion, and the baptism of new believers.

But, too often, we unintentionally interrupt that flow with announcements, promotion of groups and events and the like which divert us from the Lord and re-focus our attention on ourselves or our institution.

Those elements which distract from our focus on God and His activity in our life, His word, commitment to Him are not worship. They are entertainment, institutional promotion, whatever, but are not worship directed toward glorifying Almighty God.

Third, “We are all missionaries.” 

At first glance, that’s a laudable concept. Certainly, we all can be reaching out, using daily opportunities to proclaim the Gospel.

But, when that was said in church recently, one could almost hear an audible sigh of relief. If we all are missionaries, the nagging tug to “interrupt our lives” by becoming a full-time international or national missionary disappears.  Gone is the necessity of learning a new language, immersing in another culture, serving the Lord on a full-time basis. 

(“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

One who studies the theory of missions will run across dozens of definitions of a missionary. The characterization that speaks loudest to me and reminds us of our global responsibility to share the Gospel says “A missionary is someone who crosses a border to share the Gospel.”

Be that a political border or a cultural line or a language divide, that definition implies that a missionary in the purest sense of the word is someone who is called and responds by physically going somewhere, be that locally or internationally, to verbally witness to God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ.

If we are all missionaries, then each of us must cross a boundary, be it between neighborhoods in our own community, a state line or an international boundary and each of us must be sharing the Gospel, verbally, with others who do not know the Lord.

“Everything we do is evangelism,” “Everything we do at church on Sunday morning is worship,” “We are all missionaries,” – there may be an element of truth in each of these statements.

But, let us not become distracted or complacent when we hear them. Evangelism, worship, mission work, are not that simplistic.

Indeed, each is deep and fulfilling when lived out in complete, holistic service to the Lord.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.

Tragedy in Indonesian quake and tsunami brings back memories of hope in Venezuela

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

As I have been reading about the terrible disaster following the September earthquake that destroyed vast portions of the Indonesian coastline along the Central Sulawesi province, I am reminded of a similar disaster which occurred along the Venezuelan coast in 1999. That mudslide killed at least 50,000 and left uncounted thousands more buried.

Even in the face of such an overwhelming disaster, I remember the signs of hope that Christian rescuers and relief workers experienced eighteen months after the Venezuelan tragedy.

More recently, Reuters reports that “the 7.5 magnitude quake on Sept. 28 (2018) brought down shopping malls, hotels and other buildings in the city of Palu, while tsunami waves smashed into its beachfront. But perhaps more deadly was soil liquefaction which obliterated several Palu neighborhoods.

No one knows how many people are missing but the toll is in the thousands, and rescuers say that the number could be in the multiple thousands.

The official death toll had risen to 1,763 by October 7 but bodies were still being recovered.

The state disaster agency said liquefaction destroyed 1,700 houses in one neighborhood alone with hundreds of people buried in the mud. (Soil liquefaction occurs when a saturated or partially saturated soil substantially loses strength and stiffness in response to an applied stress such as shaking during an earthquake or other sudden change in stress condition, in which material that is ordinarily a solid behaves like a liquid. – Wikipedia)

Given the impossibility of removing so much soil, officials in Indonesia said debris would be cleared and areas hit by liquefaction would be turned into parks and sports venues.

Jono Oge in Indonesia was hit hard by liquefaction with dozens of teenagers at a nearby church and Bible camp killed. Many of them lie buried in the mud.

That same impossibility of recovering so many buried bodies faced the Venezuelan workers.

The December, 1999 flood and mudslide disaster in Venezuela may have left up to 50,000 dead.  Catastrophic storms brought massive destruction to hillside squatter communities in the capital Caracas and along the coast.

I visited the disaster site along the Caribbean coast a year and a half after the mudslide. Here are excerpts from my report: Today, neighborhoods still look like scenes from a war zone or earthquake devastation in India, with the exception that most buildings are buried or filled up through the second floor with rocks and mud, their families still entombed inside.

Nobody really knows how many died in the disaster, and few are willing to guess.

“The government says 30,000, I think 50,000, but residents along the coast say more than 100,000,” says Darrell Horn, a Southern Baptist missionary who has worked in disaster relief for the past year and a half.

“I really don’t know how many died,” says Rebecca Domingues who has led her church and other congregations in relief work along the coast. “Just last week they dug out a house and found a whole family, including a baby, buried in there.”

“The problem is that many families have been separated by the government relocation efforts while other families don’t know whether their relatives are living in another city or are dead,” says Berenice Cabrera, director for disaster relief for the Evangelical Council of Venezuela (CEV). “We are working with refugees as far away as Maracaibo (350 miles) who haven’t seen or talked with their families since the floods,” she adds.

There are reminders of the disaster wherever one goes along the coast. Standing on the waterfront amid piles of dirt and rocks, Berenice says that the water line is a block or more away from where it was before the disaster. The sweep of water and mud dumped tons of dirt into the ocean and rescue workers added to the fill as they removed the debris.

“This is a campo santo (a holy ground) declared by the government,” she says. “It’s called that because there are bodies under here that have never been recovered.”

A little while later, as she visits an entire community that was swept out to sea when the river shifted into a new course and washed everyone away, she repeats, “this is campo santo, there are bodies buried under where we are walking.”

The disaster did more than what might be immediately evident. “It not only broke up families, but destroyed social roots and traditions,” reflects Berenice. “Some members of families were loaded onto helicopters or the backs of trucks and taken to settlements across the country. Communities were broken apart. Today, a year and a half later, many families are still separated.”

Missionary Horn knows one mother who waited over seven months to learn that her two teen-age daughters were still alive in another city.

Despite the overwhelming disaster and sobering acceptance of so many disappeared who would never be uncovered, I discovered a moving moment of hope amid the disaster.

“Look, the trees are starting to come back!” Rebecca Domingues points to some shoots pushing up through unbelievable piles of mud and rocks.  

Those leaves demonstrate the hope that is returning to Venezuela’s scarred coastline a year and a half after devastating floods and landslides buried houses and families and swept away entire communities.”

Photos by Kenneth D. MacHarg

(The original articles I wrote about the Venezuelan disaster can be found here:

http://www.missionaryjournalist.net/images/Venezuela-_Venezuelan_Disaster_Unites_Evangelical_Community.pdf

https://www.christianheadlines.com/news/christians-continue-vital-ministry-18-months-after-venezuelan-disaster-525850.html

http://019329f.netsolhost.com/images/Venezuela-_Venezuelan_churches_respond_to_flood_disaster.pdf

http://www.missionaryjournalist.net/images/Venezuela-_Relief_and_Answers.pdf

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/march6/19.27.html

http://www.missionaryjournalist.net/images/Venezuela-_Baptist_missionaries_respond_to_venezuelan_disaster.pdf

 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.

Interrupted by God? Interrupted by God!

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.” ― Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

What do you want to be when you grow up? You know that question, you were asked it when you were a child or teenager and you may have asked if of your own children.

But, there comes a point in life where we no longer want to deal with such questions. For one, we may have already decided. Or, perhaps we think we have.

Or, maybe, we have made that decision several times and still find ourselves drifting with no definitive response and are too embarrassed to admit it.

Or, we think we are too old to deal with it—we are at or almost at retirement age and it is no longer relevant. Go away, don’t ask. Don’t interrupt. Just let me finish off and get on with whatever.

No matter your place on the time line of life, those words about allowing God to interrupt our life can come as a shock, a disappointment, an annoyance, or, they can be a breath of fresh air, a hope of significance, a promise of something more fulfilling. A promise to fit ourselves into God’s will for us (rather than trying to persuade God to fit into our own will).

The Lord comes and interrupts us at the most unexpected times.

  • It may be in the midst of completing our education.
  • It may be in the middle of establishing our careers or business
  • It may be in the middle of raising our children, or paying off our mortgage.
  • It may be as we are enjoying the empty nest and grandchildren.
  • Or it may come to us in retirement.

Whenever, we must be open to having our lives interrupted by our Lord as he calls us to serve Him in some capacity.

That call can come to any one of us at any time, from childhood to our senior years.

And, no, it is not just for pastors or Bible teachers or doctors. Yes, it is for them, but it is also for

  • Engineers
  • House parents
  • Secretaries
  • Hairdressers
  • Carpenters
  • Nurses
  • Teachers
  • Writers
  • Photographers
  • Business people
  • Executives
  • Plumbers
  • Telephone repair people
  • Car mechanics
  • Librarians

You name it; there are openings in the Lord’s kingdom service for each of these and more.

Each of those I have named, we have seen at work on the mission field.

And, it comes at any age. In his captivating book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper speaks about retirement by re-telling two stories:

Story 1: “In April 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they were both killed instantly.” 1

Story 2: “[Now] Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.’”

The question is then posed, Which story is more tragic? Was it a tragedy that Ruby and Laura were killed at age 80 in a car accident? Or was it a tragedy that this other couple spent their lives boating, playing softball, and collecting shells? From the biblical perspective, the second story is tragic and the first story is glorious. Mark 8:35 is indicative of this, “… whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (ESV)

Wherever you are in your life’s span, God is knocking at your door, inviting you, yes you,  to follow Him.

Are you willing to allow yourself to be “interrupted by God?”

   

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.

Picking Cherries or Cherry-Picking ?

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

One of the many pleasures of living in Kyrgyzstan, as we did for portions of three years, was to pick cherries each spring.

First came the sour, pie cherries which we gladly picked to make cherry pie, cobbler, jam or a host of other goodies. Some friends had one of those trees in their yard and couldn’t use all of the fruit. So we spent several cool mornings picking away and adding to our supply.

About the time that the sour cherry trees completed their season, the trees bearing sweet cherries put forth their own fruit. Not only did we pick large quantities of those but, when we walked the tree-shaded streets of Bishkek, we often found cherry tree branches hanging over a fence or a wall. As we passed by, we, as well as many others, grabbed a handful to eat as we headed for our destination.

While picking cherries is a wonderful experience, I’m reminded that cherry-picking is something quite different than obtaining good fruit.

Dictionary.com defines the practice of cherry-picking as to “choose or take the best or most profitable of (a number of things), especially for one’s own benefit or gain.”

The cherry-picking that is most disturbing to me is that which involves looking for a proof-text biblical verse that supports one’s own pet belief or a point they are trying to make in a sermon or article. I often describe this process as a sermon in search of a text.

In a presentation I heard some time ago, the speaker was doing just that—presenting an inspirational message that, rather than use a biblical passage and interpreting its truth for the listener, snatched three short phrases from various places in the Bible to “prove” or illustrate his points.

In so doing, the speaker distorted the message of the biblical passage and missed the more complete teaching offered. As a result, listeners were short-changed by not allowing the text itself to reveal the complete message of the Gospel.

This is the text that the speaker used (Romans 3:23): “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Now, here is the complete section from Romans 3: 21-26 in which that quote appears:

 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The sharp reader will notice that the text selected was an extracted phrase from a longer sentence and paragraph. In addition, on the overhead screen where the phrase was shown, the first word, all, was capitalized as if it was the initial word of the sentence, which it isn’t in the text. In addition, the punctuation was changed from a comma at the end of the phrase to a period—leaving the listener to assume that the thought was complete.

It wasn’t.

What was missed? Plenty, but particularly in just that sentence:

  1. The teaching applies everyone, both Jews and Gentiles.
  2. The passage demonstrates that all who sin and fall short are justified by God’s grace
  3. And, it shows that God’s grace is given through redemption in Jesus Christ.

That, my friends, is the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News, the understanding that in the face of universal sin, God’s forgiveness and grace come through Jesus Christ.

No wonder I was so frustrated that day. A grand opportunity to actually proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ was missed by a cherry-picked, incomplete quote, a changed punctuation mark, and the omission of the Gospel proclamation.

It’s a good reminder that while I will continue to pick cherries, I will always stay away from cherry-picking scripture to serve my own purpose and instead will allow God’s complete word to be proclaimed.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. The “NIV” and “New International Version” trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

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